Coach Blanco- Lead Where You Are?


When I became a first spouse, I would never have imagined that I would meet a peer like this.  But I sure am glad I did.  It’s been cool meeting a first dude, first guy, and a former first hunk.  But my vote for first gentleman of the decade goes to the first coach, Raymond Blanco of Louisiana.  I think it’s fair to say that after his wife Governor Kathleen Blanco leaves office at the end of this year, all of his fellow spouses will remember him with the deepest fondness. 

I’d guess Coach is in his early 70s, a burly guy, with a hearty laugh (often aimed at his “friends” in Texas).  Coach shoots straight and pulls no punches.  A football coach turned college dean of students, it’s easy to imagine him chewing out a player or hugging a big lineman or yelling exuberantly after a big win.  He’s the kind of guy whose players and advisees come back sometimes after decades to thank him for directing them onto a life path.  He and Kathleen raised six children, she served two terms as lieutenant governor, and you would think those two things would prepare them for just about any leadership roles.  

But what could prepare you for Hurricane Katrina?  Oh, I know, a million Monday morning quarterbacks told Louisiana and the world a thousand things the Blancos – as well as the Bush’s, the Nagins, the FEMAs, the Army Corp of Engineers, the Congress, etc. – could have and should have done, before, during, and after the storm hit.  But face it: can you imagine having the scope of responsibility that the Governor of Louisiana had in late August of 2005?  Can you imagine absorbing the heartache and the rage and the fear, while attacking thousands upon thousands of problems – systemic, structural, critical, architectural, financial, political?  And can you imagine being a husband of 43 years, and watch your wife assailed by just about everybody for just about everything – even while she is pouring every ounce of her heart and mind and body into making life work again?  Perhaps, sometimes endurance itself is heroic leadership.  I admire Coach’s persistence and love.  

I was blown away to hear the sincerity of his wife as she shared her parting words with her fellow governors.  Because I have heard and read countless accounts of how terrible the devastation was and is, I was so impressed to hear the way she talked about Louisiana’s amazing opportunity to create greatness out of the devastation!  After all she and Louisiana have been through, I found her faith uplifting. 

Well, the Blancos represent the wildly extreme example of the reality that we must all lead where we are.  In the vast majority of cases, whether we are parents or teachers, pastors or politicians, we cannot pick and certainly cannot control the environments in which we lead.  We will often be judged as though we do control all of the variables.  As my friends at Quicken Loans advise, you’ve got to “ignore the noise” – even the noise of your own blame and self-doubt.  Lead where you are.  Control what you can. There is heroism in faith and persistence, in love and in hope.  You can’t control the context but you can 

Lead with your best self,